Global talent for a global university

Aware of the vital importance of exemplary graduate students in life sciences research, the Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation has initiated a scholarship program to provide funding for new Ph.D. students. But its efforts go far beyond simple, across-the-board scholarship support. Believing that all qualified applicants should be included in the life sciences enterprise, the foundation is focusing on two groups that do not traditionally garner the strongest financial support — international students and women. The Curci Foundation Ph.D. Scholarship Program creatively links these two talent pools in its efforts to help train students for the global university. 

The foundation’s ultimate goal is to help increase the percentage of women and international students in life sciences Ph.D. programs in the United States. UC Berkeley was invited to participate in the three-year pilot phase, along with UC San Diego and the University of Washington. Says Ron Rosequist, president of the Curci Foundation, “We are very pleased to kick off the pilot phase of this program with three outstanding universities and look forward to helping them attract more of the very best students to their graduate programs.”

Each university was offered $1.78 million. Funds will support three years of incoming cohorts of six graduate students, providing each cohort with two years of funding.

Photo of a student wearing blue rubber gloves and peering through a magnifying glass.

New support from the Curci Foundation will enable Berkeley to attract international graduate students to the life sciences. Pictured: Luis Valentin-Alvarado, a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology

“It’s an honor for UC Berkeley to have been chosen for this program,” says Michael Botchan, dean of biological sciences, “and it aligns perfectly with our goal — to ensure that our students reflect the diversity of talent out there. Successful research in the life sciences is crucial to solving many issues in today’s world, and we need every qualified person on board. I thank the Curci Foundation for helping us with resources to train international students and women destined for the professoriate.”

Since its inception in 2007, the Curci Foundation has advanced a healthy and sustainable future for all human beings through support of basic scientific inquiry. It champions the exploration of fundamental scientific questions that can lead to significant advances in medicine or scientific knowledge. Its primary areas of focus include neuroscience, regenerative medicine, cell biology, stem cell research, cancer, nanotechnology, and nanoscience.

The Curci Foundation Ph.D. Scholarship Program addresses a key component of successful research enterprises: graduate students. These young scientists are valuable assets, offering crucial assistance to professors in research labs and fostering dynamic learning environments in undergraduate classrooms. When graduate students join a Ph.D. program, they bring the latest training, fresh ideas, and invaluable support.

Photo of Jessica wearing a white lab coat and blue gloves using a pipette to transport a liquid.

Supporting diversity among graduate students will help bring women into the life sciences. Pictured: Jessica May Lin, a student in the Kaufer Lab, which researches brain function in relation to such conditions as dementia and mental disease.

“The best graduate students in the world can draw the best professors in the world to a research university,” says Dean Botchan. “That’s one reason it’s imperative that all of the top candidates are included in the graduate student pool. And that’s why the scholarship program’s support of women and international students is so important. As we roll out the program, we may be challenged in the first year, given the current restrictions on travel and visas, but we are moving forward with optimism.”

In the past two decades at Berkeley alone, life scientists have developed high-resolution fluorescence microscopy that is helping to uncover the mysteries of the brain; created the field of immuno-oncology, which is smashing through barriers in cancer research; and invented CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology, which is marching rapidly toward a cure for sickle cell disease, among others. Now Berkeley’s life scientists are at the epicenter of the battle to fight COVID-19 and develop a vaccine.

Supporting diversity among graduate students will meet the needs of these urgent research endeavors in the life sciences. Says Jim Mitchell, chair of the foundation’s science advisory board, “We hope that our support for U.S. universities will enable them to continue bringing highly qualified women and international students into their programs to develop the scientists our world needs to overcome current diseases and future pandemics.”

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